Natural vs. Lab Created Sapphire
Sapphires are very precious and desirable gemstones, greatly appreciated and sought after by jewelry lovers. It's easy to see why: The colors of natural sapphires are gorgeous, and they're extremely durable. As with most gems, you have the option to choose between natural stones and man-made, lab-created sapphires. Here's a quick rundown of the different characteristics of the two.
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Natural vs Synthetic Gemstones
Many people confuse the word “synthetic” with “fake.” In many cases, that's inaccurate. “Synthetic” typically refers to something in nature that is developed, a component for component, in a controlled lab environment. Such is the case with some gemstones.
Sapphires are made from corundum, both in nature (where they’re mined) and in labs (where they're harvested once the predetermined development period is over). Because no synthetic material is used to replace the corundum used to create sapphires, real and synthetic sapphires are indistinguishable from one another by hardness and visual characteristics alone. To find the differences between the two types of sapphires, you have to look closely at the methods of formation and the environments in which both kinds of stones are developed.
Origin of Natural Sapphires
Sapphires, along with just about any of the harder gemstones (diamond, moissanite, etc.) aren’t just used for jewelry. They also have many industrial uses, from windows to lenses on a variety of devices and tools. The first such use of sapphires occurred over three centuries ago, when industrial-grade sapphires were used as bearings for timepieces such as watches and clocks of that period.
Various sapphires have different origin stories. Blue sapphires were among the first sapphires discovered, in places like Kenya, Ceylon, Australia, and Vietnam. Other shades of sapphires, such as green, pink, purple, and the ever-popular multi-colored (parti) sapphires, have been discovered in more recent decades, in mines within or near the same regions as traditional blue sapphires.
One interesting note about the origins of natural sapphires: The region from which they originate, or the age of a particular fancy (different-colored) sapphire, can have a bigger impact on a gem's market price than its official grade and rating from the GIA (or other expert gemological facility or organization). Natural sapphires of all colors that are rated as gemstone quality and marketed as such are rare enough. Sapphires from certain regions and time, such as those from Myanmar when it was still known as Myanmar, are more valuable than some mined recently in Australia — regardless of flaws or the overall quality of the sapphires.
Origin of Synthetic Sapphires
The creation of synthetic sapphires followed the discovery of synthetic forms of corundum and the introduction of synthetic rubies in the late 1800s. Both rubies and sapphires form from varieties of corundum, which is why there are no true red sapphires (although shades of pink sapphires exist, and are quite rare and valuable).
Since their first uses in the industrial market, synthetic sapphires have been created in various gem labs as a less expensive and more easily duplicated alternative to naturally formed sapphires.